Amalek was a man in the Bible. Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the grandson of Esau/Edom, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel, and of the concubine Timna.
By Gen. 36:16, Amalek is described as the “chief of Amalek”; so, his name can be construed to refer to a clan or a territory over which he ruled.
“The Lord will be at war with you forever.” Can you think of a worse curse than this one, given to Moses to give to the Amalekites?
The Amalekites were a people mentioned a number of times in the book of Genesis, and considered to be Amalek’s descendants.
The name is often interpreted as “dweller in the valley”, and occasionally as “war-like,” “people of prey”, “cave-men”.
In the Pentateuch (1st 5 books of the Bible), the Amalekites are nomads who generally live in the southern borders of the Promised Land (Gen. 14:7; Num. 13:29; 1Sam. 15:7; 27:8).
Israel’s first contact with them came as the Israelites were traveling from Egypt to Mt. Sinai… where they would receive the commandments from God. The Amalekites attacked them at Rephidim, but the Israelites defeated them (Ex. 17:8-10). Because of the Amalekites’ aggression towards God’s people, God told Moses He would blot out their name and be at war with them forever (Ex. 17:11-16).
They were major adversaries of the Hebrews in the earliest times (Num. 13:29; 1Sam. 15:7). At times said to be allied with the Moabites (Judg. 3:13) and the Midianites (Judg. 6:3). They also attacked the Israelites at Hormah (Num. 14:45).
After Saul became Israel’s first king, Samuel told him to carry out God’s curse on the Amalekites, and devote the entire nation to destruction (killing every man, woman, child and animal). Saul did attack them, but he did not carry out God’s commands completely… allowing King Agag and the livestock to live. So, Samuel himself executed the king (1Sam. 15). Saul’s failure to obey this command cost him his kingship (1Sam 28:16-18.)
Agag’s death might be expected to have been the end of the Amalekites; but, they reappear in later periods described in the Bible.
War against the Amalekites
The Biblical relationship between the Hebrew and Amalekite tribes was that the Amalekite tribes – without provocation – pounced on the Hebrews when they were weak. The Amalekites became associated with ruthlessness and trickery and tyranny, even more so than Pharaoh or the Philistines, and required a ruthless response; see Exodus 17.
This enmity is continued in Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:17-19; Judg. 3:13.
Survival of the Amalekites
It is not clear if the historical Amalekites were exterminated or not. 1Sam. 15:7,8 states that “He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.” This implies that – after Agag had been killed – so were all the people of Agag who consequently became extinct. But, in a later story in the time of Hezekiah, the Simeonites annihilated a group of Amalekites on Mount Seir and settled in their place (1Chr. 4:42,43).
Here’s some irony for you…
King Saul was told to kill all the Amalekites, but he did not. Because he did not, he was told the kingship would be taken away from him.
At the end of his life, when Saul was wounded in battle and knew he would die… he asked an Amalekite to kill him and put him out of his misery (2Sam. 1:8)
It’s amazing how often those sins we don’t put behind us… and away from us… haunt us all throughout our lives.
You can read of the Amalekites throughout much of the Old Testament.